Green Spirit Awards: Cheers to North Carolina brewery, winery and distillery

Guest Blog | January 21, 2016 | Energy Policy, Solar

This is the first blog in a monthly series, highlighting breweries, wineries and distilleries in the Southeast using clean energy to create tasty, sustainable beverages. As blogs get added to this series, go here to follow along. Cheers!

As a native North Carolinian, I’m proud to report on the explosive ‘spirit’ industry located in state made up of breweries, wineries and distilleries. The hardest part of writing this post was picking winners amongst hundreds of awesome businesses going the extra mile to create uniquely delicious beverages while keeping a watchful eye to their energy consumption, water usage and overall impact on their local economies. I hope you’ll support these fine establishments, if you ever find yourself in the Old North State. First up, beer!

Appalachian Mountain Brewery – philanthropy, sustainability, community

Beer is a billion dollar industry in North Carolina, especially in the western part of the state. I live in Asheville, which is lovingly called Beer City USA, so it should say something that the beer winner, in my opinion, hails from Boone, NC. Congrats to Appalachian Mountain Brewery (AMB) for blowing me away with your impressive commitment to incorporating clean solar power, sourcing all kinds of local ingredients from neighboring farms, and balancing your water consumption with conservation.

Photo from Farm2Flame's Instagram page.

AMB uses solar power in two ways. A 5-kilowatt solar array of high efficient solar panels are mounted on their southwest-facing roof. This array supplies power to their Tasting Room, which houses their beer and cider taps. Another very cool application of solar energy is in AMB’s food truck, which is powered by 20, 240-watt solar panels when parked at the brewery. There are also three smaller solar panels on the truck’s roof that provide power while they are out and about in the community.

Transportation is another expense that impacts a businesses’ bottom line. AMB does a good job of reducing their transportation costs and carbon emissions by sourcing ingredients locally for their beer and food truck. North Carolina’s high country has a robust local farm scene, so AMB is able to source a wide range of products from local farmers.  Local honey is used in the Boone Creek Blonde Ale (pictured below). North Carolina apples go into their cider. Local cucumbers from Octopus Garden add flavor to their in Bad Mother Pucker. And local grains from Riverbend Malthouse are added to the Saison V4 brew.  Additionally, AMB’s food truck runs on biodiesel from Boone’s High Country Biofuels, and they have a bike barn at their Tasting room, both of which support cleaner, alternative transportation options.

Local honey is used in the Boone Creek Blonde Ale which not only supports a local beekeeper but also cuts down on carbon emissions by reducing transportation.

The final criteria I used to evaluate businesses in the running for the Green Spirit Award is conservation. That’s a broad term that many businesses throw around loosely, so it was important to me that these establishments have a few ‘projects on the ground’ that actively conserve resources. Brewing beer uses a lot of water, so when I read about AMB’s water quality and conservation projects I was totally sold on them as winners. Before AMB opened its doors, they worked with the National Committee of the New River to restore riparian zones of the Boone Creek and Hodges Creek. They also have two rain gardens in front of their brewery, which reduce stormwater runoff and sediment pollution in local streams. These rain gardens also serve as a teaching model for thirsty patrons, who might go on to build a rain garden in their yard, neighborhood or business. Overall, these water projects were AMB’s way of balancing their breweries’ water consumption with long-term conservation that benefits the community. And it looks like the brewery has recently partnered Wine to Water to support and facilitate domestic water projects through Appalachian Mountain chain. Way to go, AMB!

Mother Earth Spirits – solar-made liquors

Next award winner is Mother Earth Spirits! Mother Earth first put themselves on the map by brewing beer, but in 2014 they opened a small distillery to produce whiskey and gin (and soon rum). Both their brewery and distillery are powered by a 6-kilowatt rooftop solar array, which according to their website serves “as a tribute to the authority of that great star we orbit, familiarly known as the sun.” Mother Earth uses a steam-fired 60-gallon compound fractional still to create their whiskey and gin.

Mother Earth Brewery & Spirits uses rooftop solar to brew beer and distill whiskey and gin. Their building received the Gold LEED certification in 2013.

“On a hot, clear, sunny day our awning system will generate 20 degrees of temperature gain per hour. Our 160-gallon solar hot water tank will max out at 175-degree water, which is perfect for all of Mother Earth Spirits’ wash-making temperature needs,” states their website.

Another impressive aspect of Mother Earth Spirits is their actual building, which received the Gold LEED certification in 2013.  In order to receive this certification, which is awarded after a rigorous evaluation by the U.S. Green Building Council, Mother Earth incorporated energy efficiency and water conservation into the overall design of the building. They also re-used 95 percent of the original brick, wood and steel from the structure in the construction process, eliminating the energy and expense it would have taken to produce these materials.

From their website:  Blue jean insulation, a 100 percent recycled product, is used to insulate the walls. In addition to being a recyclable product, the denim also has outstanding sound barrier qualities. Soy-based spray foam insulation protects the second story ceiling. Low volatile organic compounds paint covers the walls. The flooring wasn’t ignored, either. Mother Earth Brewing’s corporate offices sport eco-carpet partially made from renewable resources. Eco-flush valves on toilets know just the right amount of water needed for “the job” and reduce water needed for flushing by 30 percent. Eco-faucets in both bathrooms offer an unimaginable savings in water compared to conventional faucets. A state-of the-art tankless water heater heats water on demand, instead of using needless energy to keep hundreds of gallons of water heated at all times.

Similar to Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Mother Earth reduces their carbon footprint by growing their own hops for their speciality beers. On their website they tout that over 80 percent of their staff walks, bikes or skateboards to work, cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, the brewery has partnered with local farmers to feed their spent grains to livestock, versus putting them in the landfill. Way to live up to your name, Mother Earth!

Biltmore Estate & Winery Goes Solar

Photo from

Last but not least on our list of award winners in North Carolina is the Biltmore Estate and Winery, which is one of the crowning gems of the tourism industry in Western North Carolina. With thousands of annual visitors, the Biltmore provides an awesome example of the economic and environmental benefits for businesses who go solar. Their impressive 9-acre, 1.7-megawatt system features 7,000 solar panels and uses advanced technology to perform even on cloudy days.  As if ‘America’s largest Home’ completed in 1895 wasn’t enough, their solar array definitely turned my head when I drove by it on Interstate 40. Twenty percent of the estate’s power comes from clean, renewable solar energy. Cheers to that!

Following the philosophy of Biltmore Estate’s founder George Vanderbilt — “preservation through self-sufficiency” — his descendants starting growing grapes and producing their own wine in the early 1970’s. This was the family’s way of providing visitors with “a taste” of the Biltmore philosophy, as well as another revenue stream for the working estate. In addition to cleaning up their energy source by going solar, the Biltmore Estate established best management practices in their agricultural and forestry operations to prevent silt and runoff from going into waterways. These practices received the River Friendly Farmer Award from the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation Service and show Biltmore’s effort to balance their water consumption with good stewardship.

Growing grapes and other produce, as well as raising livestock on the estate’s property, helps Biltmore cut down on transportation costs and lowers the estate’s carbon footprint. Additionally, they work with TerraCycle, an organization that collects and “upcycles” corks and other post-consumer materials into unique products. Corks from the Biltmore Winery are collected (versus going to the landfill) at key locations across the estate, including the Winery’s tasting room and estate restaurants.

All in all, SACE would like to give a big CHEERS to these three North Carolina businesses who go over and beyond to provide quality products while protecting (and enhancing) our communities. Stay tuned for the next blog in this series that highlights Green Spirit Award winners in South Carolina!

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